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June 2019

Nico Kroese, Manager: Research
and Development, South African
Weather Service. Send an email to

Farm management for small scale farmers (SSF’S) poses unique challenges and risks to make a living. No matter how large or small, a farmer needs to use sound management principles. Many of his/her decisions are based on information that is not readily available. Through this article a digital platform AgriCloud is explained that will assist small-scale farmers with day-to-day decision making.

The farming community worldwide need to produce more food as the world’s population is expected to reach 9 billion by 2040. All farmers large or small need to increase their current production to feed this population that is becoming more urbanised. Faced with challenges and risks pertaining to climate variability such as droughts and floods, unfavourable market conditions do not contribute towards the sustainability of the farm and making a living from farming. 

Lack of water, access to land (in South Africa) and access to reliable information are some of the main problems being encountered. All farmers in South Africa, large or small, need reliable information about historic, current and forecasted weather information to optimise crop growth and to generate income for their families. 

Weather-related data is available ranging from manual observations, automatic weather stations, weather radars, satellite and weather forecast modelling output. However, these data sources are often not accessible to or understandable by the agricultural role-players and especially not to individual farmers. As a result, every year, for millions of farmers, crop production is unnecessarily limited due to the limited availability of essential weather data and agricultural advisories.

In order to address this, South African partners (Agricultural Research Council: Soil Climate and Water (SCW) and the South African Weather Service (SAWS) collaborated with Dutch partners in a project called “Rain for Africa” (R4A). The R4A Project has a strong agricultural focus and the aim is to impact on the agriculture sector through services to:

  • Farmers: Small scale farmers (SSF), commercial farmers and farmers’ associations. 
  • Agricultural service providers: Agri-Business, provincial departments of agriculture, cooperatives, NGO’s, etc.
  • Agricultural Technical developer’s: IT Application developers. 

The adoption of new technology is one of the ways a farmer can increase yields and income but usually these services come at a price. The next step is to translate the weather information into weather based agricultural advisories. AgriCloud is an online weather based agricultural advisory system that enriches weather and climate data with agricultural data and local knowledge and generates real-time personalised forecasts and warnings. 

The AgriCloud portal is a commercial service that helps Agri-businesses, cooperatives and farmers to make well-informed farm management decisions in order to:

  • Optimise farm inputs. 
  • Reduce weather and climate related risks.
  • Improve food production in a sustainable manner.

Contact the ARC, SAWS or visit the R4A website for more information on the above services. 

The AgriCloud app is aimed specifically at small scale farmers (SSF’S). The following three services are provided for rain-fed crops:

  • Planting advice.
  • Spraying advice-herbicides.
  • Spraying advice-pesticides.

For small scale farmers the service is free and can be downloaded via a smartphone application accessible via the Google Play Store for Android phones or a simple text message service (USSD/SMS). The app was tested amongst a number of selected SSF’s and extension practitioners across several provinces. Commentary from the users during the testing phase can be summarised as very positive.

There are a multitude of management decisions a farmer must make that address the risk factors he/she is exposed to. The management of risks despite many aides and tools cannot replace management skills obtained from knowledge, experience, initiative, discernment and wisdom. The AgriCloud app is a tool that can assist and guide farmers to make better decisions. For more information, visit www.rain4africa.org.

AgriCloud is a free mobile app for Android phones, downloadable from the Google Play Store. It provides guidance to farmers on the selection of planting dates for rain-fed maize for the specific location of their own farm. This information is based on the rainfall received over the previous ten days together with the rainfall forecast for the next ten days. 

It also gives advice on the weather conditions conducive for the spraying of herbicides and pesticides for the next three days. Extension practitioners, NGOs and others working with farmers can download the app and register a number of farmers to assist them in obtaining the information. Similar information is also available for users of simple phones via a USSD service (*134*8383#).

Publication: June 2019

Section: Pula/Imvula